Sunday, July 4, 2010

Brian Sammons Hi-Def Horror Hoedown!

DAY OF THE DEAD (1985) – Blu-ray – Arrow Video

Director: George A. Romero
Cast: Lori Cardille, Joe Pilato, Richard Liberty

Let me begin by saying that I am not an anglophile. Now I have nothing against the Brits, on the contrary, thanks to the glory of the internet, I’ve virtually met many people from the UK in cyberspace, have honestly never met a bad one, and in fact have become close net buddies with quite a few people from across the pound. However I’m not one of those people that think that everything’s better just because it comes from someplace other than here. But when it comes to DVDs and BDs, I am starting to change my mind about that, at least in regard to the British. I mean, you take any movie released both here (being North America where I am) and there and eight times out of ten they will have the better, more special feature packed disc. Sadly, this goes for DAY OF THE DEAD on BD.

Now normally I discuss the story of a film in a review before getting into the extras and technical specifics of a disc, but do I really need to tell you the story of DAY OF THE DEAD? Come on, if you haven’t seen this movie by now then you’re simply not a horror fan. Suffice to say that this was the third movie (and sadly, the last good one) of Romero’s …OF THE DEAD zombie films. Taking place in an underground bunker in the 1980s, it’s about the military, the breakdown of communication, abuse of power, and how humanity can sometimes be its own worst enemy. It also features some of the best, and goriest, special make up effects in any movie. Again, if you have yet to see this movie, then you must do so at once. Lucky for you, there’s this, the mother of all DAY OF THE DEAD Blu-rays.

The American version of this BD comes from Anchor Bay, a much respected DVD/BD company, and their version is very good and worth owning in its own right. That said, this saucy import smacks it around and makes it cry for momma. While the picture and sound are on par with each other, where the UK version from Arrow Video excels is the extras. Dear God, do they try their best to O.D. you on the extras. From little things like the sleeve art being double-sided which allows you to have four different covers to chose from, to a fifteen page collector’s booklet, to a double-sided poster for you wall, and best of all a full color, surprisingly well written comic book prequel telling the back story of one of the movie’s most memorable characters. And all that is just the goodies that come with the film. Now for the goodies on the disc. Make that two discs. Yes, there so many extras here that one Blu-ray wasn’t enough to contain them all. There’s an audio commentary, a travelogue of Joe Pilato (the wickedly detestable Captain Rhodes in the movie) touring Ireland and Scotland, and a nearly hour long interview with Mr. Pilato. That’s just the first disc. The second disc has a huge behind the scenes doc called “The Many Days of the Dead”, a featurette on the zombie gore makeup, the “zombography” of George Romero, trailers for this movie and both of the previous …OF THE DEAD films, and audio interview with Richard (Dr. Frankenstein) Liberty, TV spots, still galleries, and more. Simply put, no other disc anywhere has more DAY OF THE DEAD goodies on it.

Now I can hear all my non European brothers and sisters now, “Why tease us with a review of this awesome BD when we can’t play it on our non-British disc players.” Well that’s the good news; the folks at Arrow Video wisely chose to make this Blu-ray region free. That means you can play it anywhere. Sure it may cost a little more, what with the British pound kicking the hell out of the dollars of most countries, and the shipping with add a few bucks to the overall cost, but trust me, this disc is well worth it.

So, do I recommend this Blu-ray? Do you even have to ask? Hell yes I recommend it. It is by far one of the best made and put together deluxe editions to any movie ever made that I have ever seen. I cannot recommend this BD high enough without boarding the space shuttle to do so. I sincerely wish that other movie companies take a look at this total package and try their best to equal it with their future titles. If so, then I’ll be one happy horrorhead for a long, long time.

THE PROWLER (1981) – Blu-ray review

Director: Joseph Zitto
Cast: Farley Grainger, Vicky Dawson, Christopher Goutman

The first real, not-afternoon-on-TV’s-creature-feature horror movie I ever saw was FRIDAY THE 13TH PART IV. To say that it blew me away and changed my life would not be an overstatement. I consider that movie to be one of the chief reasons I am the horrorhead I am today. It is my favorite slasher flick of all time, a movie that I can watch time and time again, and why Jason Voorhees will always be my homeboy. Now why do I love that movie so much? Well I’m sure some of it has to be the “you always remember your first time” thing, but I think some of the reason has to be the two most important people who made it. I’m talking about the director, Joseph Zitto and special makeup master, Tom Savini. These two worked great together, were at the top of their game, and that just might be why I like this particular movie so much. That’s right, Zitto and Savini first teamed up in 1981 for THE PROWLER, one of the early slashers that helped define the subgenre. So how does this compare to my favorite masked maniac flick of all time? Let’s find out.

PROWLER has a unique start with black and white newsreel footage about the end of World War Two. Then comes a letter from a woman named Rosemarie telling her just-home-from-the-war boyfriend that they’re quits. Needless to say that “Dear John” doesn’t take the rejection well. Cue one hell of an awesome pitchfork kill and Savini’s trademark splatter is off and running. Unfortunately things soon become, while not a crawl, a leisurely stroll at best, as the murder mayhem slows down considerably. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty of creative kills to be found in here, they just take a little longer to get on the screen than your average slasher. But that’s ok, because this movie is better than your average slasher as well.

After the 1940s double murder the film jumps to the modern day (read as: 1980s) when the same New England college where the first gruesome killings took place wants to have a graduation dance for the first time since the murders. Even though it’s been over thirty years, the psycho killer isn’t keen on the idea of the dance, so he once again puts on his old army fatigues and grabs the pitchfork. Before that dance is through, THE PROWLER will have created a whole new bloody legend that will last well into the next thirty years.

We have the fine folks at Blue Underground to thank for bringing this truly classic slasher out for the first time on Blu-ray disc. While the picture looks about on par with the DVD version, perhaps a tiny bit better, it has never sounded better with both 5.1 and 7.1 audio tracks. But as far as special features go, this disc is a little light. There is an audio commentary with Zitto and Savini that’s both informative and entertaining as the two seem very at ease with each other. There’s a ten minuet featurette showing some behind the scenes moments of Savini’s special effects, a few trailers, and that’s it for extras on this disc. While that might be a tad disappointing, the best thing about this movie is that it’s been release not rated with much of the splatter restored so gorehounds rejoice, not to mention any fan of 80s horror movies. If you don’t have this movie in your personal collection, then it’s high time you get it.

SUPERNATURAL season 1 (2005) – a Blu-ray review

Series Creator: Eric Kripke
Cast: Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles

SUPERNATURAL is a television series I was destined not to like. Yeah, sorry about coming into this thing with preconceived ideas but its true, so let me count the ways I was sure to hate this show. First, it looked like an X-FILES rip-off and I hate rip-offs. Come to think of it, I hated what the X-FILES turned into after season six, but I digress. This show also looked like teeny-bopper horror, and I am so, so, sssssooooo sick of teeny-bopper horror. Then there’s the fact that it starred a couple of hunky guys, so there wasn’t even the lure of eye candy to draw me in like BUFFY: THE VAMPIRE SLAYER or DOLLHOUSE or pretty much anything that Joss Whedon ever did. Oh, and then there’s the fact that I am a huge horrorhead, so I’ve seen the two stars before and I wasn’t too impressed. Jensen Ackles was most recently was in the middle of the road MY BLOODY VALENTINE remake. Worst yet, there was the truly horrible, direct to DVD, satanic video game movie; DEVOUR. Co-star Jared Padalecki is a bit more of a repeat offender with two so-so to down right horrible (depending upon who you ask) remakes with FRIDAY THE 13TH and HOUSE OF WAX, and the very forgettable slasher/thriller, CRY WOLF. So yeah, with all that said, I had written off this TV show before ever laying eyes on it.

And then I watched this show, and amazingly, I liked it. I really liked it. Trust me, I’m more surprised than you are about that. Why did I like it? Well just as I counted the ways I thought I was going to not like this show, I guess I’ll count the ways it actually worked for me.

First, it is very well written. The basis of the series is two brothers, raised at a young age to be monster hunters by their Captain Ahab-ish dad. The two bors have to reunite after a few years of being apart and once again stalk the night stalkers all over Americana while looking for their father who had abruptly vanished. That is the “nutshell” version of the series, but that doesn’t give full credit to the show. The over-arching mystery of what happened to daddy is engaging and the individual episodes usually spotlight a “monster of the week” that comes from real world folklore and urban legends, and as a UL/folklore junkie, I love that. The characters are well developed and seem believable instead of gung-ho monster masher cardboard cutouts they could have easily been written as. Most importantly, and surprisingly, SUPERNATURAL is hilarious. While the show is usually not really scary, it is almost always really funny. Now that may seem weird, liking a horror show that’s not scary, but since most TV shows that claim to be “horror” really aren’t all that scary either, I’m more than happy to be content with funny.

As for those two actors I was sort of making fun of for their bad movie choices? Well I thought that both of those guys had good chemistry together, portrayed their characters well enough that I actually wanted to keep learning more about them (something that only rarely happens for me about TV characters), and could deliver both the comedic lines and a good heaping of pathos when called to do so.

So I guess I am a fan now of this show. Lucky for me, Warner Brothers has just brought out the first season of SUPERNATURAL on Blu-ray for the first time. This well put together little bundle of BD goodness collects all 22 episodes, many extended or deleted scenes, a select few episodes with audio commentary, and two featurettes. Plus there are two new features new to this Blu-ray edition and therefore not on the previous DVD release. One is an interactive map of the US with spots where the episodes take place highlighted. There is also a panel discussion from a festival featuring the cast and crew. Both were nice additions, but if you’re already a fan of this show then you’ve probably got this already on DVD, so should you buy it again for the BD upgrade? Well the two extra features are nice, but not nice enough to justify getting this set all over again. The video up conversion from DVD to BD is noticeable, so it does look better; however the soundtrack remains the same. So if two new features and a slightly better picture are worth it to you to double dip for the first season of this very enjoyable show, then by all means go for it. But if you have yet to get into SUPERNATURAL then this is a great place to start.

Death Race 2000 (1975) – Blu-ray review

Director: Paul Bartel
Cast: David Carradine , Simone Griffeth, Sylvester Stallone, Mary Woronov

Now I know this film isn’t a horror movie, but it does have a guy named Frankenstein in it. Nah, that’s not it, let me start over.

Now I know this film isn’t a horror movie, but it was produced by Roger Corman, who’s made more movies, horror and otherwise, than you can count. Ok, according to IMDb they can be counted, and that number reaches a staggering 389 films. No, that’s still not right.

Oh wait, I’ve got it. Now I know this film isn’t a horror movie, but it is one of the coolest, grooviest, weirdest, funniest, and most satirical movies ever made. So horror or not, I’m going to talk about this awesome flick, here’s hoping you stick around to find out how this DEATH RACE ends.

Yeah, that’s good. But I digress, so let’s continue.

DEATH RACE 2000 takes place in the far flung futuristic year of…well what do you think? That’s right; the year 2000! Yeah, this film was made in 1975, so I can forgive it that little of unfortunate dating. Anyway, into the dystopian future world comes the only national pastime left, the Death Race, which is a cross-country race from New York to Californian. Running, that is driving, this race is a cast of colorful characters like Machine Gun Joe Viterbo (played by a very young Sylvester Stallone), Matilda the Hun, Calamity Jane, Nero the Hero, and the star of the show in every sense, Frankenstein (played by David Carradine, fresh off of his KUNG FU TV show glory). Good ol’ Frank earned his name after being the sole survivor of a multicar pileup in the 90s. Since then he’s been patched up and put back together countless times. New arms, new legs, and pretty much new everything else, and Frankenstein keeps coming back to drive the Death Race he loves so much.

But as dangerous and deadly as this road rally is for the racers, it is even more so for any pedestrian unlucky enough to cross these drivers’ paths. This is because not only is hit-and-run no longer a crime, its part of the sport. Racers gain extra points for hitting and killing innocents all along the way. Not only that, but different people are worth different points. Young, healthy men are worth the least, women are more points, the elderly are still more, and children are worth even more than that.

As a satirical commentary on America’s love affair with both cars and violence, DEATH RACE 2000 is right on the money. As a fun, goofy flick filed with blood, nudity, and lots of cool looking cars and a few neat car crashes, this movie excels. Forget the very forgettable 2008 remake, if you’ve never seen the original DEATH RACE 2000, then you’ve missed out on one of the most classic of all cult classics.

Thankfully SHOUT! FACTOR has recently begun releasing many of Roger Corman’s coolest films that the epic producer had brought out over his almost sixty-year filmmaking career. Unlike some companies who are content to knock out a barely restored movie on a bare bones disc, SHOUT! has pulled out all the stops to make this a must have movie in any cinephile’s collection. Not only does this Blu-ray make the movie look and sound better than it ever has before, but they have also packed it with a heaping helping of extras. There are two audio commentaries, one with the assistant director and the editor, and the other with produced Corman and actress Mary Moronov, who plays Calamity Jane in the film. There are the usual trailers, poster and sill galleries, but there are also seven featurettes and interviews with Corman, the composer, the author who wrote the original story the movie was based on, and plenty of others, not the least of which is the late star, David Carradine. Then there are the little things that so many BDs and DVDs forget, but that this disc so right, such as a twelve page booklet that’s include in the package. When’s the last time you’ve seen that?

In all ways, this new Blu-ray is a winner. Great movie, great extras, and great presentation that ranges form the disc’s packaging to how the movies looks and sounds in your home theater. I highly recommend this definitive edition of this classic cult movie.

DAYBREAKERS (2009) – Blu-ray review

Directors: Michael Spierig & Peter Spierig
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill, Willem Dafoe.

Man, am I fast approaching vampire burnout. All the emo, whiny, (is that redundant?), sparkly, my boyfriend/best friend/neighbor/guy who hired me at the circus is a vampire crap. I am completely sick of all those bland, tepid, pretty-boy and utterly not frightening blood suckers. I want my scary vampires back, damn it! Three cheers then for DAYBREAKERS from Lionsgate, a movie that gives vamps back their fangs. While not the feral vampires of 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, or the Cthulhu-ish, trap-jawed ubervamps of BLADE 2, or even the more traditional corpse-like vampires of SALEM’S LOT, the blood suckers in this movie are nonetheless mean, evil, and completely happy being vampires. They don’t moan about their lost humanity, they embrace their unlife, and all the cool perks that go along with it. Well, not all of the vampires do, and therein lays this film’s story.

In the near future (2019) a plague has swept over the world, turning the vast majority of people into the undead. Naturally, this means a major food shortage as living humans become more and more rare. So the new vamp government, hand-in-hand with big business, round up all the living people, place them into comas for easy handing, and then put them on tap for the thirsty nocturnal populace to enjoy. However, with X numbers of vamps far outnumbering Y numbers of humans, the unwilling donors soon start getting sucked dry, and thereby dying at an ever increasing rate.

Enter our brooding, good-hearted, vampire hero, Edward (no, not that sparkling milksop) who is a hematologist looking to create an edible substitute for the warm, red stuff. Hmm, the protagonist is named Edward and he’s basically trying to make True Blood, when was this script written again? Anyway, Edward’s not having too much success with his faux blood and vamps the world over are going crazy with hunger and starting to change into something far more monstrous than your normal vampires. Soon these monster-vamps start attacking and cannibalizing anyone they can get their fangs into. Then quite by accident, Edward stumbles upon the small band of human resistance fighters who just might have the cure for the entire vampire plague. But will the now stronger, meaner, and immortal population want to become the weak, meek, and slowly dying humans they once were?

This movie, while not perfect, gets a lot of credit for trying something new. Ok, it’s not really all that new as the nods to TRUE BLOOD and TWILIGHT show, not to mention that the “world run by vamps” thing was first done by Richard Matheson in his excellent novel, I AM LEGEND. But DAYBREAKERS takes all those different threads, pulls them together, and knits out one enjoyable creature feature with solid acting, highly decent special effects, good action pieces, and cool looking vampire-werebat things. But most importantly, these vampires ARE vampires and that’s all I really want from my vampire movies. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

The Blu-ray out by Lionsgate comes bloated with extras like as a vampire let loose in a blood bank. The co-directors and creature creator provide an entertaining audio commentary, and while that may be par for the course, the over two hour long behind the scenes documentary about the movie goes far beyond the call of duty. Yes, that means that this doc is actually longer than the movie it’s about. In addition to that extensive feature, the BD offers a shot film by the directing brothers, storyboard comparisons to the actual shots, trailers, poster gallery, and a digital copy of the movie in case you want to watch it on your laptop or the like. Lionsgate knows how to put out great BDs and DAYBREAKERS is them firing on all cylinders.

I enjoyed this movie a lot and if you are as sick of the whip-tastic vamps that are everywhere these days, then I think you will too. Consider this one recommended.

THE WOLFMAN (2010) – a Blu-ray review

Director: Joe Johnston
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving.

Some months back I was sitting in a theater with a woman I was seeing at the time. She was a nice girl, a little young, a little naive, you know, just the way I like ‘em, and a total novice to horror films. A preview of this new THE WOLFMAN remake came up and when it was over she whispered to me, “Do you want to go see that?”

I replied, “Sure, but the CGI werewolf thing is going to ruin it for me.”

She looked surprised and asked, “Well how else could they show the guy becoming a werewolf without computers?”

Taking into account her charming ignorance of the horror genre, and the fact that she was, come to think of it, ten years younger than me, I smiled and just said, “American Werewolf in London. It was made in 1981, had an amazing transformation scenes that was completely done in bright light with makeup, no computers whatsoever, and it won an Oscar for its special effects. That almost 30 years ago. What, did Hollywood suddenly forget how to do it? Is it a lost art like making Greek fire?”

Being a bit of a history buff (she was young and naïve, but far from stupid) she got the reference. Later that night I took her back to my place and popped in AWiL on BD. She was blow away, and I felt good for furthering her education in the field of Great Horror Movies 101.

All this preamble was to illustrate a point, really it was, and that is this: what the fuck happened Hollywood? All the creative people die or something? Or was it just the people who care about good movies? I can take the remakes, I mean, do I have a choice anymore? So ok, I get it, you’re now all just run by penny pinching bean counters from your parent companies that are oh so afraid to try anything new. So I won’t blame the almost total dearth good genre films on “well they’re just out of ideas” because I still read a lot of books, and I know there’s plenty of great stories out there that would make great movies if only the tightwads running the show would ok them. But one thing I cannot abide is the total dependence on CGI, not when there are alternatives that look far better and are almost 30 YEARS OLD! It’s got to be another money thing, right? CGI is quicker, easier, and therefore cheaper to do than traditional makeup effects, but what the money men don’t take into account is that it also looks like complete ass. Unless you have millions and millions to spend on your CGI budget (like JURRASSIC PARK and AVATAR) the CGI always looks fake, too shiny, too cartoonish, and just doesn’t mesh with the other things on the screen. And again, it’s not necessary! CGI-ing the big monster in CLOVERFIELD, ok I’ll give you that one, for as much as I love the “guy in a rubber suit” monster movies from Japan, I’ll say that your Clover critter looked better. But CGI-ing bullet hits and other gruesome bits in the last three Romero zombie movies? No! Unacceptable and they look horrible. CGI-ing the vastly strange alien world in the STAR WARS prequels and in AVATAR? Ok, they looked fine I guess, and because I don’t see them every day, my mind doesn’t have a frame of reference to compare them to. However I have seen men, and wolves, and while I’ve never seen a real life wolfman, my brain can fill in the gaps and give me a pretty good idea of what it would look like, and sorry dear Hollywood, but your wolfman in this movie looked nothing like that. In fact, it looked so laughable bad, especially the transformation scenes, that whenever it was shown on the screen it only served to smack me out of the movie-watching experience and remind me that all was essential looking at was a Nintendo game on steroids.

The sad thing is that other than the CGI, I liked this movie.

Del Toro and Hopkins are both great fun to watch. The story, while not revolutionary, was good, creepy, werewolf fun. And the CGI used for backgrounds and to bring the gaslight era to life was well done. If only the effects for the titular monster were better, this film would have gotten a big nod of approval from me. As it stands now, I can only give it a shrug of confused disappointment at what might have been, if only…

I guess I should say something about the story, as thin as it is. Del Toro plays an actor of some note who comes from a line of British lords. His brother is chewed up by a big bad wolf, so home to Blackmore Manor and daddy craziest, played to insane perfect by Anthony Hopkins. Del Toro vows to find his brother’s killer but before you know it he gets bit and then it’s off to lycanthrope land. Along the way, Emily Blunt does a serviceable job as the dead brother’s fiancé and new love interest of Del Toro and Hugo Weaving does his Agent Smith act, replacing shades and an earpiece for a bowler hat and period appropriate facial hair.

Now if you’re a fan of THE WOLFMAN then the good news is that Universal has put out a hell of a Blu-ray for you to enjoy. The single disc contains both the theatrical and the uncut versions of the movie. A separate disc contains a digital copy in case you want to watch the flick on your laptop or iPod. As for special features, there’s a twelve minuet behind the scenes featurette called “Return of the Wolfman”, another twelve minute doc called “The Beast Maker” about the special makeup effect (yay), and of course another one called “Transformation Sequences” about the CGI effects (boo). Naturally, the doc on the CGI is fifteen minutes, therefore longer than the one on practical effects, so right there is a good example of where this movie puts its priorities. There’s also an eight minuet featurette called “The Wolfman Unleashed” about the action scenes and stunts in the film. There are two alternate endings and a couple of deleted scenes, but what really makes this disc stand out is the interactive media treatment Universal has seemed to prefect with popup video, commentary, trivia, and behind the scenes goodies that appear as the movie plays. Naturally this can be disabled if you just want to watch the film, but having this turned on really adds to the experience for the avid movie lover.

In closing, THE WOLFMAN on Blu-ray from Universal is a great disc, of a moderately good film, with some really bad CGI effects. If this sounds like your thing, then pick this baby up. A treat for the eyes and ears, and for behind the scenes lovers, I can highly recommend this movie to anyone not haunted by the CGI demons as I am.

THE STEPFATHER (1987) – a Blu-ray review

Director: Joseph Ruben
Starring: Terry O'Quinn, Jill Schoelen, Shelley Hack

Long before Terry O'Quinn gained fame for getting LOST as John Locke, he was one of those hard working actors who would pop up in a ton of movies and TV shows, but never as the leading man. Then came this little suspense thriller in 1987 and Terry got his big break. Or at least, this is the first movie that I remember him playing the lead. That could be because this movie is just so memorable. In fact this movie is so well remembered by horrorheads that naturally Hollywood felt the need to desecrate those memories and make yet another needless remake out of it. Well no real surprise, but that remake sucked pretty bad. Luckily that gray cloud of remake ickiness did have a silver lining; it was all the excuse the folks at Shout Factory needed to rerelease this gem of a film after a far too long absence. It first came out on DVD a few months back and now it’s in glorious Blu-ray format. So, be on your best behavior boys and girls, stepdaddy dearest is coming and it’s best not to upset him.

Terry plays a great, remorseless psychopath looking for the perfect family, but always seeming to fall just a tad short in his quest. When that happens, daddy deadliest packs up his things and moves on, but he leaves no survivors in his wake. That includes his own small children. Terry is creepy as all hell in this movie. He can turn on a dime at any given moment and can shift emotional gears with ease and in a matter of seconds. One moment he’s all smiles and the next he’s caving your head in with a 2X4. Afterwards, he’s all smiles again. He’s also a man without a real identity and he slips in and out of personas as easily as you or I put on and take off hats. Really, people go on and on about how great Terry O’Quinn was in LOST, and he was good in that TV show, but this movie is the real testament to his considerable acting prowess.

Joining Terry in this first rate thriller is the lovely scream queen from the 80s, Jill Schoelen as the teen daughter of the woman Terry has just wed only one year after decimating his last family. The film is told in equal parts from both Terry and Jill’s POV. Jill’s story has the girl investigating her weird new stepfather. Terry’s tale is all about a psycho losing his tentative grasp on reality once more. So begins a teasing game of dread anticipation as the stepfather begins to pull up stakes, not to mention pile up the bodies, while the quintessential good girl next door tries to put the puzzle pieces together before both her and her mother meet the same fate as last family of the murderous stepfather.

Now on Blu-ray, this movie looks and sounds better than ever. It also has a few cool extras to offer. There’s an audio commentary track with the director, moderated by Fangoria’s Michael Gingold. There is a 30 minuet behind the scenes documentary called “The Stepfather Chronicles” that interviews many of the cast a crew about their thoughts on the film. Sadly nether Terry O'Quinn or Jill Schoelen are in it. There are also some trailers and a still photo gallery to round things out.

Fans of thrillers should already know about this movie. If you fall into that camp then oh happy day, THE STEPFATHER is finally available again. If you’ve never seen this movie before then you’re missing out. Do yourself a favor and pick up this movie toady. It’s great on so many levels, and not just because it has a wonderful nude scene of Jill Schoelen in it. Hey give me a break, I’ve had a crush on that woman since the 80s, so I’m allowed a little ogle and drool. If it’s any consolation, the lady LOST fans out there can get a peak of “John’s Little Locke.” I guess that’s worth something. Whatever, I really like this movie and I’m sure you will too, so go get it already.

THE CRAZIES (2010) – a Blu-ray review

Director: Breck Eisner
Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson

Yay, yet another remake of a horror film! Why is it that only horror movies are getting the unrelenting and unwanted remake treatment? Could it be that Hollywood has an incredibly low opinion of horror fans? Do they think that we’ll eat up any old crap served to us with a smile and ask for more? No other genre is treated like this, only horror. Try remaking GONE WITH THE WIND or even something as insipid as PRETTY WOMAN and see what happens. But horror films? Hell, why not remake them? Gee, it’s almost as if Hollywood thinks horror movies are beneath them, not worth of the same consideration as “serious” films. But that can’t be right…right?

Ok, sorry for the rant but I had to get that off my chest. Let’s get on with this review of a surprisingly not too bad remake. I know, imagine my surprise when I watched it. But the fact that this redo wasn’t completely horrible doesn’t change the fact that I’m getting sick of the endless remake parade, even if this one float was sort of easy on the eyes.

This movie is pretty faithful to the original that was written and directed by the High Zombie Master, George Romero. The tale concerns a small town that gets accidently dosed with a chemical/biological weapon that drives people, well crazy. The local sheriff, played well by Timothy Olyphant, his pregnant wife must figure out what’s going on, avoid the army who comes to round everybody up and squelch the outbreak before it escapes the confines of the tiny town, and most importantly of all, avoid their once nice neighbors who have now become murderous psychopaths armed with a variety of wicked weapons.

Really, that’s about all there is to it. It’s a simple story to remake, so what is going to make or break this movie is all the little things. Individual scenes of fright, suspense, and dread will be all important here. Luckily, the ones lashed together for this film are pretty damn good. Look at the cover to this disc. See that pitchfork? Well there’s a scene with that pitchfork that’s one of the best terror scenes that I’ve seen in a long time. It is masterful. Nothing else in this movie comes close to that, but there are still some good bits to be had. Two that come to mind I’ll hint at with the words “bone saw” and “upstairs room”.

So is this flick nothing more than collage of creepy scenes? Well, sort of, but it kind of works. I enjoyed it about as much as the original. I know, I know, that’s heresy, but it’s true. The first movie wasn’t without its share of flaws, despite being made by a certified master of horror, so I’m not doing to damn this film too much for its own missteps. In short, it’s a fun, action oriented, thriller with one hell of a pitchfork scene.

The Blu-ray brought out by Anchor Bay looks and sounds incredible, but that’s to be expected for new movies these days. What was a nice surprise was all the extras packing into this disc. There’s a commentary with the director and a bunch of featurettes, all about 10 minutes or so. There’s the basic behind the scenes doc, another on the look of the sickness causing the crazies, and a very nice documentary about the original director, George Romero, with quite a few guests giving their opinions on the man and his work. There’s a 15 minute look on at the bloody special effects, two “motion comics” that are basically flash animations, storyboards, trailers, and a few hidden Easter eggs that show the stuntmen practicing some of the memorable fight scenes in the film.

As far as remakes go, THE CRAZIES is one of the best. As a standalone movie, it’s pretty darn enjoyable. As a Blu-ray, it’s chock full of goodies and both looks and sounds great. In all ways it’s a winner. So if Hollywood is going to continue the remake march, and you know they will, all I can hope is that they make them as good as this. I doubt they will, but I can always hope.

UNCLE SAM (1997) – a Blu-ray review

Director: William Lustig
Starring: Isaac Hays, P.J. Soles, Christopher Ogden

Once again the genre fanatics over at Blue Underground have given us Blu-ray owning horrorheads a treat. This one comes just in time for the 4th of July and is an upgraded reissue of UNCLE SAM. You know, that late 90s slasher directed by the man who gave us the sleazy classic MANIAC and the less than classic, but still fun, MANIAC COP flicks. Unfortunately this time around I must admit that I’m not jumping up and down like I was when BU brought out CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, or like I will be once THE PROWLER makes its Blu-ray debut. That’s because UNCLE SAM is a very uneven film, and one that tends to drag on at its start. It’s not all bad, and it has garnered a small cult following over the years, but I guess it’s just not my thing. Hmm, does that make me unpatriotic? I hope not, because those types don’t seem to last long when Uncle Sam’s around.

Sam was a soldier in the first Gulf War killed by some decidedly not-so-friendly fire. A couple of GIs come to retrieve his corpse, but Sam pops up despite being deep-fried, quickly dispatches both of the soldiers, and then promptly keels over again. Why? Who knows? But you had better be thankful for that little bit of bloodletting because that’s all you’re going to get for the next 40 minutes. Yes, almost half of this movie goes by before undead Sam gets his lazy ass out of the coffin to start killing unpatriotic folks around his home town once he gets shipped home in a box.

This is a slasher film?

That’s like a porno with no sex in it for 40 minutes, who wants to watch that? Sadly, also like a porno is the quality of acting of the vast majority of people in this movie. While that is the norm for many a horror film, it also means that if the director was giving us that long break in the body count to have us relate, and come to care about, the soon-to-be victims, it was all for naught. Not a one of the people on the screen, with the exception of Isaac Hays’ wounded vet, did I care about. Sadly that includes the young nephew of Sam (get it, that’s why he’s “Uncle” Sam) who has the unenviable task of carrying this movie on his thin shoulders, but quietly frankly the kid isn’t up to the task.

But after 40 sleep inducing minutes, on the stroke of midnight on July 4th, there happens to be a lot of anti-American schmucks in Sam’s hometown and that’s something he won’t stand, or lie in his coffin, for. Of course what Sam thinks is “un-American” is a pretty loose interruption. Smoke pot? You’re un-American! Like to peep in on naked girls while dressed as Uncle Sam and standing on 20 foot tall stilts (no, I’m not kidding)? You’re un-American! Tax cheats, draft dodgers, crooked politicians, flag burners, and all the rest will be the targets of Uncle Sam’s red, white, and blue wrath. Too bad that wrath is pretty weak. Quite a few deaths appear off screen or are bloodless. There are a few juicy kills to be found here, but none are particularly memorable. Well, except for the flag burner that gets hung from a flag pole, I give that one points for poetic justice if nothing else. Oh, and I won’t even get into how badly written this movie is, with the introduction of a major character coming well after two-thirds mark. Really, who does that?

As per usually for Blue Underground, the disc comes with a nice selection of extras for the fans. There are two audio commentaries, a featurette on the admittedly impressive fire stunts in this movie, a gag reel, trailers, and a deleted scene. But in the end UNCLE SAM is a long, boring, only moderately bloody, poorly acted slasher with only one slight nudie scene, no good kills, and a forgettable antihero in Sam. If that sounds like your kind of slasher flick, then you’ll love this version of SAM. It’s never looked or sounded as good as it does here in glorious BD format. But for me, I think I’ll just get drunk this July 4th and pass on this movie altogether.

--Brian M. Sammons